A happy outcome

And they all lived happily ever after… or did they? Encouraging children to make predictions and assess outcomes is an important life skill that’s strengthened through reading, explains Diana Noonan.

So, what have you got planned for today? Maybe you’ll pop across town to catch up with your mum after you drop your little one at kindy. Then again, it might be safer if you stayed close to home. Your little girl had a bit of a sniffle this morning, and you might get a call to pick her up from kindy early. Besides, you’ve a mountain of laundry to do – but should you hang it on the line or load the lot in the dryer? If that dark cloud out the window is anything to go by, rain is on its way. Daily life is full of predictions. We are constantly thinking ahead and making decisions. Not only do we function on prediction-making, but we also assess the outcomes of our actions based on those predictions. If we decide to stay close to home and our child really does need to be picked up early from kindy, we make sure we have a similar response to her sniffle next time. If we put the laundry in the dryer rather than the on the line, and it doesn’t rain, we’re less likely to be concerned about dark clouds next time we turn on the washing machine.

Children, even young ones, make and use predictions all the time, too. Your eight-year-old may predict that if they keep out of your way, you won’t notice them, and they’ll get to stay up later. And quite possibly, they’d be right! On the other hand, a toddler with little experience of cats may fail to predict the cat will scratch them when they pull her tail – and suffer the consequences.

Making predictions and assessing outcomes are hugely important skills for people of all ages, and the more practice children have at both, the better equipped they will be to deal with the world. One of the ways we can help children learn to predict and assess outcomes is through engaging them in reading. As they think about what might happen next in a story, they are practicing prediction. As they discuss what happens at the end of the story, they are assessing outcomes.

A happy byproduct of using books to teach prediction and assessing outcomes is that children become more connected with their reading and more excited about turning the page or finishing the chapter. They also retain the story for longer, and if they are reading non-fiction, they remember the facts for a longer period of time. Just how you as a parent can help your child to predict and assess through reading is a lot simpler than you may think. Use some of the suggestions in the “Choosing a book” section below to get you started.

Choosing a book

How do you choose a book? Is it because you’ve previously enjoyed a book by the same author, because the title sounds promising, or because of the illustration on the cover? Whichever it is, you’re making predictions about the story. Take your child to the library and help them select books on the same basis. Ask questions such as, “Look at the picture on this cover. What do you think the story might be about?” or “We’ve had a book by this author before. Shall we get another one by her?” Read the titles aloud and ask if your child thinks the books might contain funny or serious stories; or whether the stories are made up (fiction) or factual (non-fiction). Once you have your books at home, look at the pictures before you start reading. Draw attention to the characters and settings in the story. On the basis of these, encourage your child to predict who the characters are and what they’re like. Predict what is going to happen in the story.

Stop reading now and then and see if you child can predict what might be going to happen next. Stop at crucial moments and try to decide what you will see when you turn the next page. As the story progresses, talk to your child about how it might end. Children won’t always be satisfied by a story’s ending. If they’re not, ask them how the characters could have behaved differently to bring about a better ending (in this way you are assessing outcomes). The same sort of predictions can be made with older readers who are tackling chapter books but, in this case, predictions are going to be based on different aspects. Older children also enjoy “pick a path” stories where they get to choose which chapter they read next.

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